When Broadsheet met with jeweller Sarah Rothe in her Regent Arcade studio, she was excitedly unpacking an assortment of gems acquired at auction earlier that day. “I’m always drawn to irregular shapes and ones with interesting lines,” Rothe says, re-inspecting her new jewels. “I find they’re the most fun to work with.”
The stones will be fashioned into bespoke pieces or commissions and – who knows – could someday end up behind glass in a national art gallery, or on the chest of the would-be most powerful woman in the world.
“The Premier's Department purchased a brooch from me shortly before Hillary Clinton's visit a few years ago,” Rothe says. The piece – called Forest Floor Brooch – was a welcome gift to Clinton when she visited South Australia in 2012. “Of course I was crazy excited,” Rothe says. “I included information about myself with the brooch, but I am yet to get a personal request for more jewels.”
Another of Rothe’s works is part of the permanent collection at the Art Gallery of South Australia. The neckpiece called Anisoptera Collar (Dragonfly Collar) is included in the Daalder Contemporary Jewellery Collection, formally acquired by the institution on April 11. It was a case of “enter through the giftshop” for Rothe, who had been stocked in the gallery’s store since 2014. The entire collection of 160 pieces will be opened to the public in the second half of 2018.
It’s recognition of her developing practice and came after a piece of hers – from her debut range – was purchased by Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum in 2013. “Contemporary jewellery is not really recognised as art outside of the industry,” she says. There’s an ongoing discussion around commercial, contemporary and bespoke jewellery, and how each is viewed for its sculptural and artistic merits. Rothe says customers sometimes don’t know the distinction and that’s, in part, why she incorporated a studio into her retail shop. It facilitates a dialogue between maker and client, and provides insight into the artistry behind her pieces. She likens her set-up to “a little Italian maker down a backstreet somewhere”.
“A woman came in looking for a special piece to buy with her mother – something that could become an heirloom. As we were speaking I could share with her that the piece – the one she’d already chosen – was actually inspired by my own grandparents. Knowing the inspiration and story behind the work made it even more special.”
Rothe works almost exclusively with titanium. Her current collection focuses on “exploring fragility in nature” which may seem at odds with her material of choice. But she is interested in “translating delicate natural forms into an industrial metal while retaining their delicacy”.
In fact, there’s a great deal of science involved. Rothe designs her pieces in Adobe Illustrator and sends them to the US to be cut. She then shapes each by hand and adds colour by “anodising” the titanium (charging it with an electrical current). The anodising process causes an oxide layer to form on the metal’s surface, and different voltages create different levels of oxide that refract light in their own ways.
On Rothe’s workbench – beside pliers and clasps and other familiar jewellers’ gear – sits a plastic tub filled with liquid and a nondescript grey box. “It’s basically demineralised water with an electrical probe in it, attached to a rectifier that controls the voltage,” she explains. This set-up allows Rothe to conjure an array of colours from the grey, untreated titanium – from bronze to purple and blues, through to pink and brilliant greens. “Jewellery is creative, but it’s also about metal and bonding.”
Rothe can do most things from her CBD studio and shop, but keeps some of her larger, specialised equipment at home. “When I have my micrometer (a device used for precise measurement) running, it makes the shop sound like a dentist.”
sarah rothe | jewellery & design
Shop 29 Regent Arcade 101-109 Rundle Mall Adelaide
0411 196 295